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The Cool Runnings of Royal Challengers Bangalore

Royal Challengers Bangalore captain and batsman Virat Kohli bends down with disappointment in the players dug out after being bowled out during the final Twenty20 cricket match of the 2016 Indian Premier League (IPL) between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Sunrisers Hyderabad at The M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore on May 29, 2016.

All feel good movies are designed to have happy endings. They follow a fairly formulaic structure – a beginning that sets the context, a little turbulence in the middle to add some mandatory suspense to the proceedings and the end when everything and everyone comes together and all is right with the world. Cool Runnings is one such feel good movie from the 9os that follows the same formula, more or less. Loosely based on a true story of the Jamaican bobsledding team, it is about 4 young men who decide to take to bobsledding in a bid to win an Olympic gold. They are met with numerous challenges from funding, infighting amongst themselves, getting accustomed to the extreme cold, to being coached by an ex-Olympian whose career ended in disgrace after a cheating scandal.

Eventually, all of their trials and tribulations come to fruition and they qualify for the finals at the Olympics. This is where the movie deviates from the feel-good formula. After so many tribulations, one would expect a happy ending where the team that has surmounted great odds finally stands atop the podium, tears rolling down their cheeks, their Olympic dreams having coming true. But there is a twist to the story.

On the day of the finals, as they chase the world speed record, their bobsled topples. Determined to finish the race, they carry their bobsled and walk across the finish line as the faint applause from the crowd slowly reaches a crescendo.

The Royal Challengers Bangalore didn’t have to wade through such seemingly insurmountable obstacles but their IPL 2016 was very similar to the movie plot. Everyone expected a happy ending after they came back from almost being knocked out of the tournament. On more than one occasion, their batsmen had to step in and sandpaper the bowlers who were adrift for much of the season. In Ab de Villiers and Virat Kohli, they had two modern day greats who complemented each other beautifully to set up a magnificent run that led up to the finals. Chris Gayle’s star looked like it’s on the wane and age isn’t on his side. His frequent run ins with sexism and women reporters is something that will eventually hurt his image as well as the team’s at some point. While he played a crucial knock in the finals, he didn’t stick it out to take his team over the finish line.

David Warner, Hyderabad’s one-man army again set the tone for the visitors and Ben Cutting chopped and sliced the attack towards the end and give the home team 209 to chase. Chasing 209 in a finals needs something extraordinary. And while the RCB’s bowling unit came together in bits and pieces, they fell short in the all important final.
Bangalore’s cup of woes began even before a ball was bowled in the tournament. Mitchell Starc and Samuel Badree were ruled out with injuries. This meant an over-dependence on the big 3 – Kohli, Abd and Gayle, with Gayle not in the best of form. Playing in RCB colours for the first time, Shane Watson didn’t set the tournament ablaze with his all-round abilities and the middle order looked brittle.

Virat Kohli, who has been walking on water ever since the t20 World Cup began, had to see his record breaking efforts come to naught. He went from zero centuries to 4 centuries in the IPL and along with ABD was the co-architect of the epochal record breaking 229 run stand in the game against the Gujarat Lions. His near messianic run of form hasn’t been rewarded with any silverware that does justice to his efforts.

In the first qualifier against the Lions, RCB were gasping for air at 29/5 chasing 159 before Ab de Villiers resurrected the side’s fortunes from the dead to script a comeback of near epic proportions. By then, the momentum was on their side, but the beginning of their campaign wasn’t as ominous. They lost 5 of their first 7 matches and could afford to lose just one of their remaining matches if they were to have any chance of making it to the play-offs. Chris Jordan was parachuted into the side halfway through the season to bolster the bowling unit but he didn’t live up to his billing, finishing the tournament with an economy rate of 9.21.

The troika of Gayle, Kohli and de Villiers was expected to sugar coat the team’s bowling woes and plunder oppositions at will. Even with Gayle’s dipping fortunes and form, de Villiers and Kohli stepped up and carried the team along with them. Towards the latter half of the tournament, the team marshaled all of their abilities and gave their fans a fresh lease of hope and optimism.

Few sides in the IPL can boast of a top order like the one RCB can boast of. While their bowlers gave them more sleepless nights than they would have liked, their batsmen raked up a slew of records. In the finals, the odds were stacked against the Sunrisers. They went from fast to furious in their last 3 overs and gave Bangalore at least 30 runs more to chase than they would have liked.

The difference between the Sun Risers Hyderabad and the Royal Challengers Bangalore on the big day was the bowling. It was only a matter of time before the the Royal Challengers batsmen would be given a mess that would prove tough to clean. In the last 3 overs of their innings, the Sunrisers amassed 52 runs. Contrast that with the death bowling of Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Mustafizur Rahman who gave away 28 runs in the last 3 overs and had Bangalore in a choke hold.

The Challengers began their chase in the perfect fashion. Gayle rose to the occasion when it mattered the most and half way through the innings, it seemed like the trophy that had eluded them all these years would finally come within their grasp. Gayle went in the 11th over when he misjudged an off cutter from Ben Cutting and the ball landed safely in the hands of Bipul Sharma. The good thing about the RCB line-up is that the stadium goes quiet only for sometime after Gayle or Kohli get out as the next man in, Ab de Villiers, is magician extraordinaire. The wheels slowly began to come off in the 13th over when Kohli stepped outside to Barinder Sran only to get an inside edge and see the ball clip off stump. Sadly,de Villiers didn’t pull anything from his bag of tricks, played a needless shot and was caught by Moses Henriques.

At the end of the 15th over, RCB needed 51 runs off 5 overs with Shane Watson and KL Rahul at the crease. The odds were still in their favour to cross the finish line. In the 16th over, Rahul slogged and missed the ball completely and the ball crashed into the stumps. Shane Watson, looking for redemption after his terrible performance with the ball, skied a delivery off Mutafizur and Henriques made no mistake at extra cover. The door to victory, which was wide open just a couple of overs ago, suddenly seemed to be closing very fast.
It was left to the inexperienced Stuart Binny and Sachin Baby to see the team through. Binny struck a couple of lustful blows but the run rate, like the trophy, seemed to be running away from them. With 30 required off 12 balls, Stuart Binny took on the arm of Deepak Hooda and was run out in his quest to get on strike. Mustafizur Rahman’s cutters and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar’s yorkers were beautifully executed in the death overs. In the last over, Chris Jordan and Sachin Baby had to get 18 runs. Chris Jordan was run out in the 3rd ball. 15 to get off 3. The next two deliveries went for a single and a double respectively. A boundary of the last ball was as good as it would get as the home team fell short of a maiden title by 8 runs.

No one likes an optimist or willingly admits that they are one. Optimists are creatures who look at world starry eyed, seemingly oblivious to the misery around them. On the contrary, no one likes a pessimist either. They spread gloom and doom quicker than a passing cloud. The Royal Challengers journey to the final was a short essay in optimism. The pessimists who had written them off when they were one match away from a premature exit slowly began to change the tune they were singing. They managed to get the pessimists on their side and that is no small victory.

The final was a battle between the tournament’s most consistent bowling unit against the tournament’s most devastating batting unit. Come next season, RCB will have to re-look at its bowling unit and beef up its middle order.

Playing in front of their home ground, the stage seemed set for Bangalore to lift the trophy. A bus had been booked to take the team on a victory parade the next day. The stadium would erupt, crackers would burst through the night and the roads would be blocked for the team’s victory parade and no one would complain about the ensuing traffic jam.

And just like the bobsledders in Cool Runnings, the team toppled when they were inches from the finish line.

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